—– BEWARE, HERE BE SPOILERS—–
I am a Pixar fan. Most sane people are. They are one of the best film production companies I have ever known, consistently producing work of a high quality for all ages. I hold the strong believe that WALL-E is one of the best films of the decade, and for an animation about a robot who can only say a few words, that is mighty impressive.
I will therefore admit, that when I went to see Up (trailer here) I had some high expectations. I couldn’t quite see how they could make a good story out of the premise though, but then again, I thought Ratatouille would suck, but it didn’t. It is now with great regret that I must admit that I did not like it.
Before you call me a heartless monster without a soul, let me defend myself. I think it is well done, very well done. It is funny and moving, but its not the light hearted Pixar I know and love. It also has in my view a negative view on all other Pixar films.
Carl (the old man) and Russell (the boy scout, or American equivalent at least) have a very clear and positive relationship, which starts of very simply, and grows naturally as the film progresses. It is one of the film’s highlights,( the other being the very funny dog Dug) but it is not the main focus.
The trailer neglects to mention that Carl’s childhood sweetheart and then wife dies 20 minutes into the film. We are introduced to a very spunky young girl, Ellie, who captures the audience’s heart immediately with her dreams of landing her house on a precarious plateau in the aptly named Paradise Falls. We then see a very powerful summary of their life together, including all the usual highlights but also surprisingly a medical exam which means Ellie can’t have children. We are then left reeling after we see Ellie in old age left in a hospital before Carl is left alone at her funeral.
The film then focuses on Carl clinging to his memories of her, physically attacking a stranger for damaging something Ellie touched. He then decides to try and achieve what Ellie had always dreamed of, fly his house to Paradise Falls. This is where the adventure begins.
Russell and Carl travel through the skies, and have lots of adventures, all very exciting. They then meet lots of new characters, a bird called Kevin, talking dogs and the villain, Charles Muntz. This character is quite frankly one of the weakest Pixar have ever created. He seems to have no real reason for being so cut-throat, but neither does he seem genuinely evil and terrifying . You also cannot take him seriously, and everything he says is either a joke or a way of moving the plot forward.
This however is not my main gripe, it is the fact it is so dark that annoys me so. I’ve already mentioned the death of the lead character’s love interest and his obsession with her afterwards, but there is more besides. Russell’s parents have split, his father has never took any interest in him and his mother’s favourite game is “Lets see who can stay quiet the longest”. This is supposedly resolved by the end with Carl becoming his father figure, but to me this solution is temporary at best. We have seen his wife die, so how long does Carl have left to take care of Russell?
And it doesn’t stop there. We see the villain killed with no remorse by being tossed from a great height, we see former heroes become sour, a city planning department which does not care for its people, and that getting dogs to talk will only lead to bullying. Okay, so the last two are a bit much, but seriously, there is no hope in this film. Although Carl seems to have let go of Ellie, this seems to only be because she had to sacrifice all her dreams too. She never got to do the things she wanted as a child because she chose to be with Carl and have a life with him. The message therefore is that to be happy you have to surrender all your dreams.
I have to disagree. I hope this explains my feelings on the subject, it saddens me greatly to dislike a Pixar film. I read one review of Up that suggested it recast former characters as stuck in a rut (Empire review here) and therefore that all the Pixar films are about escaping something. This does explain why they make such a good form of escapism, but Up suggests we should escape from our dreams and fantasies, and just live with what we find in front of us.